Before I write one of my trademark ridiculously long race reports, I must give a heart-felt thank you to my friends and family. Both online and in person, your support during this race was both awesome and overwhelming. And in this case, I don’t think I’d have crossed the finish line without you. This phrase is over-used, but no less true: I’m blessed to have all of you in my life. </mushystuff>
I did my usual tossing and turning before giving up and getting out of bed fifteen minutes before my 4:30 alarm clock. I felt bad for Heidi because while I wasn’t sleeping I could hear the girls asking her questions, so I know she wasn’t getting much sleep either. I made my new pre-race breakfast of frozen waffles and nutella with a banana. I was originally planning to just bike to the race start, but T was actually awake, so I talked him into walking with me. It was nice to have company as we walked down the dark highway. There were already a bunch of triathletes on the road, so it was only quiet for a short while. Soon it was time to part ways as I headed into the athlete’s only area to set up my transition area.
They had body markers roaming around the transition area, which was so much nicer than having to line up to do it. The girl who did mine told me “I hope you win!” which made me laugh out loud. (Something really bad would have to happen to the rest of the field for that to happen!)
T went to get coffee while I did all of my pre-race stuff. My favorite sight was some guy wandering around in what looked like a hotel bathrobe. He cracked the entire porta potty line up. It was like racing at the Playboy Mansion. I met up with T again and did my usual pre-race cry. (The enormity of these races catches me off guard sometimes.) Then it was time to get into the wetsuit and do a quick warm-up. T got this awesome shot of me as I came out of the water:
I had to hustle to join my wave, which was a little stressful, but it didn’t give me much time to get nervous. Then the usual mess of starting to swim, having people do all manner of craziness in front of me (breast stroke from the very beginning? Really?!) My goggles filled with water, but luckily I got them fixed quickly with only one adjustment. (Knowing that the river would eventually be shallow enough to do this again if I needed to was nice. There was some kind of river plants that had very fine tendrils that got chopped up by all of the swimmers before us and was exactly like swimming through a bunch of dog hair. (GROSS!) But luckily, it was only a little section (that we’d get to swim through three more times, lucky us!)
The weirdest thing about the swim was looking up to see people walking at various intervals. I downloaded a couple of images off the internet to show what the swim looks like:
This is looking towards the turn-around, where a lot of the walking happens. It was super odd, but made the potential of being swum over much less scary, since you could just stand up.
I swam as much as I could, because it was a lot easier than stumbling around a rocky river bed, but there were a few sections where it was so shallow that I thought I was going to fall on my face. It was also a fairly crowded swim, which was stressful for me, but I just did the best I could. I can’t say I ever really found a rhythm and I was very surprised when I came out of the water at 1:31. I think this picture sums it up nicely:
I was actually pretty proud of this transition. I felt calm and in control. I went down the wrong aisle briefly, but was able to correct it without too much problem. I was able to give my stuff to T, which was way more awesome than letting it marinate in the sun all day. (There were a few volunteers that were so sweet, offering to take the bag and then handing it off to T for me when I explained. They were the first of many awesome volunteers that I met over the course of the day.)
Leading into the race, I heard over and over how much easier this course was than Canada. I think they’re just differently hard. Canada has two major climbs with a bunch of rollers in the middle, where this course was more like a roller coaster, twists and turns, ups and downs. It had a climb that you did twice, once at mile 30-something and again at mile 100. I loved it. It was never boring and there was tons of pretty stuff to look at. In looking at my race photos, there are a ton where I have a huge smile on my face, which matches my memory of how I felt about the course:
I planned to only stop at the special needs aid station at the half-way mark and I kept to that plan. The only bummer was that they had two porta-potties at that aid station, so there was a line. Then the special needs bags were at the other end, so you either had to walk your bike or ride while dodging other triathletes who were trying to get things from the aid station in the middle of these two points. So, my stop there was much longer than I wanted it to be. Oh well…
I hadn’t really expected to see my cheering section out on the bike course, since we’d been told not to have folks driving on the course with us. But suddenly, I turned the corner and there they were! I was so surprised and happy that I actually teared up after seeing them. You’re out there for such a long time by yourself that you get easily emotional at the sight of some familiar faces. The miles ticked by and I tried not to be nervous about climbing Chalk Hill for the second time. It turned out fine, but definitely tougher the second time. I was again surprised by M, J & Baby Rowan around mile 105. J has this bright orange baseball cap that I could see for quite a distance, so I spotted him before I even knew what I was looking at.
The last few miles are always a bit of a struggle. I was looking forward to getting off that damn bike, that’s for sure.
I was moving a little slower on this transition. I took my time taping up a couple of my toes that are prone to blisters and struggled into my Injinji compression socks. (Those things are awesome, but man are they a PITA to get into!) I had a bandana to wrap ice in and put around my neck which felt like heaven, both because it was cooling and because my neck was stiff from being on the bike for so long. I also grabbed some sunscreen and chaffing creme and stuffed them in my pocket.
Run special needs was right outside T2 and T was standing across from it. He checked in with me and I was pleased to report that I was feeling great. Unlike IMC, I was able to run (sort of) right from the start. The rest of the crew was right around the corner and Nerissa took this rad picture of me heading out:
The course is basically three out-and-back sections of a little over 8.5 miles. This is exactly as tough as you might imagine, but I tried to just focus on each piece at a time. The first section was about finding a run/walk interval that worked for me. I had my watch set for 2 min run/1 min walk, but I also was walking aid stations and uphills, so it was a little bit of a mess. Finally, I just started running all of the downhills and as many of the two minute intervals as I could, longer when I felt like it.
There were a ton of other folks on the course and it was nice to see that even the faster folks were struggling. (Misery loves company and all that… ) I was able to run a bit more as I came in to start the second loop. It definitely helped knowing I’d get to see everyone. I high-fived them and headed back out onto the course. Initially, loop two went awesome. I was able to run and felt pretty smooth. Then I started feeling some… um… intestinal issues. I stopped at an aid station and dropped some weight, but when I tried running I still felt like I might poop myself. So, there was a lot more walking than I wanted. Then the pity party started. Then I started worrying about making the cutoff to start lap 3 or worse yet, making that cutoff but not making the finish cut off. This picture perfectly sums up my feelings on lap 2:
By the time I got back to the cheering section, I was a weepy mess. I really wasn’t sure I was going to make the finish line cutoff and I was scared to go through that drama again. But here’s where I have the best friends ever – they kindly but firmly gave my hoody, reminded me to grab my headlamp from special needs and took the bag from me. T made me grab a gel and M told me “You don’t have anything else you have to do tonight. Put one foot in front of the other and get it done.” It was so effective that I actually started to run again. They ran alongside me for a little bit and I headed back out into the night.
The volunteers were truly fantastic. They encouraged us, fetched things at the aid station and generally kept spirits up. I was determined to run as much as possible and bank as much time against the deadline as I could. By this point, my feet hurt just as much running as they did walking, so I just kept a steady shuffle going lest I wake up the GI monster again. I was very glad I’d brought my headlamp because it was pitch black out there. I was pleasantly surprised by how many folks were still out on the course and everyone was super encouraging and supportive. It helped as much to cheer others on as it was to be cheered by them.
There was an asian dude dressed as Mr. Incredible (complete with foam muscles) and I thanked him for being out there. He was cheering on his friend, who I ran with for a little bit and chatted with. He was doing his second iron distance as well and we bonded over the differences in preparation from race #1 and race #2. As I was about halfway through the last section, a volunteer asked if I’d like some company. I said sure and she ran/walked with me. Her name was Anna and once she told me about how her family had made signs that said “Bananas!” when she did Vineman, I started thinking of her as Anna Bananas. She was great, she told me funny stories about things she’d seen over the course of the day and kept my spirits up. (Now that I was pretty certain I was going to finish, I was in a much better headspace.)
We started the last section and I heard voices. Then Erik’s voice said “Is that Michelle?” When I answered, there was a flurry of excitement and suddenly I was surrounded by Erik, Nerissa and Martha all telling me at once that the timing mat at the final turnaround hadn’t shown up on the tracking and they’d been worried about me. Erik went to call T and I introduced everyone to Anna Banana. She left me in their capable hands and went to help another race. (THANKS ANNA!!!) T met up with us and Nerissa fired up “Eye of the Tiger” on her phone. I was run/walking at this point because my stomach was getting a little queasy when I ran. Since I didn’t have to push it, I decided doing an Ironman without barfing would be nice.
Finally, we were in the homestretch and I ran for the finishing chute. I could hear the announcer and see the lights and I was soooooo happy. Once again, this race picture sums it up quite well, even if it’s not the most flattering:
The volunteers had formed a little “tunnel” that the finishers would go through, while they chanted “Gauntlet… Gauntlet!” It was fantastic and so funny. Then I got my medal and finisher shirt. The volunteers handing out the shirts were so nice. She apologized for them only having women’s mediums that were a little small, so the other volunteer gave me a mens small, just in case. Nerissa took a triumphant finisher shot:
Don’t worry, I eventually figured out that I had the headlamp still on. 😉
There was still plenty of food left and I was actually in a state to eat something. They had some chicken noodle soup that tasted like the best thing ever. I had that and some watermelon and was pretty happy. M & T kept me company while Erik & Nerissa went to get the car. I was astonished by how much better I felt than last time. I was actually able to walk (albeit so very slowly) to the car, including negotiating getting around some race fencing down a grassy embankment.
I didn’t find out my real finishing time until the next day, but I finished in 16:16 – a 31 minute PR over Canada. (I’d hoped to knock another hour off of that time, but considering I’d been worried about finishing at all, I am still pretty happy about it.) I learned a lot and have a feeling that there might be a third Ironman in my future.